Month: June 2014

El Vampiro in the Squat.


Unless you have been living under a rock, you know something is amiss at this year’s World Cup. I just read an interesting re/code article giving us lay folk a glimpse inside Google’s World Cup War Room. They’re in that room crunching scads of real-time search data from real-time Google searches originating from Google searchers all over the planet. One of my main take-aways from said article?

People are fascinated by vampires. “Suarez bite” was evidently disproportionately queried when compared to, say, “flea bite,” “dog bite,” and other more innocuous Google searches about someone or something biting someone or something else.

It got me thinking: Might there be a competitive advantage, in certain settings, to having a reputation as “a biter?” As someone who, under the right circumstances, just might set his or her teeth to work on an unsuspecting–or better yet, suspecting–victim?

My mind goes first to other sports. I could stay with soccer (OK, futbol), but judging by all the sudden, spastic falls to the pitch, there is probably a lot more biting going on there than can be perceived my the human eye. No other way to explain all that writhing in pain, eyes bugging out, he’s-clearly-about-to-expire-out-there that seems to transpire during every match. Someone has to be biting someone, there’s no other explanation. But I will leave that examination to those more qualified and with access to higher-definition slo-mo footage than I can get my hands on.

So, other sports? Hmmm.

If the San Francisco Giants’ MVP catcher bit, say, the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig, just once, I believe this would tilt the competitive balance in the Giants’ favor, in a statistically significant way, over the course of a long season.

Now, to be clear, I’m not suggesting some big, theatrical, open-mouthed clamp onto Puig’s jugular. The opposite. Just a little nibble. Buster’s head is perhaps a foot or two from the batter’s legs. The batter is not focused on Buster. Buster is the last thing on the batter’s mind. And given that many players are now sporting the pants up/full socks, old school look, those lower legs are prime for the taking.

All Buster would need to do is lean forward for a moment, reach for a pinch of dirt near his feet, then extend his neck for a quick nip of calf between upper and lower canines. Or, a less vampiresque, but perhaps more manageable quick bite between matching incisors.

Quite frankly, Buster wouldn’t actually need to bite Puig at all in order to secure this psychic advantage. He could simply reach out with two fingers, pinch Puig’s calf with cat-like reflexes. Then when Puig flinches and snaps his head down to Buster in the crouch, Buster could look up expectedly. Lip curled up a bit to reveal a tooth or two with (fake) blood smeared there. And Buster’s wild eyes.

What’s Puig gonna do? The rest of the world saw, at most, a friendly pinch from a universally-respected ambassador of the game to the leg of an adversary. Then a friendly smile from under Buster’s mask. No one else save Puig saw the crazy eyes, los ojos, the twitching lip, and the (fake) smear of blood, the taste of which Buster seemed to actually enjoy. No one will give creedence to Puig’s shouts, “El Vampiro! El Vampiro!” as he jabs his gloved forefinger at the still-squatting Buster. The Ump will tell Puig to get back in the box. If asked to investigate, MLB officials will treat Puig as all early-in-the-film characters, first-bitten but never believed until it is too late.

But Puig’s rants, upon returning to his murmuring bench, will unsettle his teammates. Plant the seed. Each will hold in the back of their own minds, when setting their feet in the box during their at-bat, the possibility that a vampire lies in wait just inches away.

Good luck staying focused on Bumgarner’s arm slot with this on your head. “Any moment, Buster could rip the flesh of my calf clear off the bone. C’mon, that’s crazy talk, man. Jesus, keep it together, pick up the ball pick up the ball….Wait, did I just hear Buster shuffle his feet? Is he about to make his move?!?” This is not the stuff of positive self-talk espoused by the sports psychiatrists.

And suddenly, the Dodgers’ bench sees other behaviors and rituals of Giants players for what they maybe, really, are: Pablo’s habitual bat-scratching in the dirt, tapping a certain number of times on his cleated toes, then on his head, a cross carved carefully near his side of home plate. Blanco’s sudden, Gargoyle-like spring into the air from his crouch in on-deck circle. Pence’s refusal to blink during his entire tenure with the Giants. Morse’s always glistening left forearm, his uniform sleeves barely covering what look like warnings or prophecies written in an ancient language.

All this stuff starts to snap into focus. The opposing team’s collective heads begin to swoon a bit. A little light-headed, as all of these observations, foolishly ignored over the years or even–gasp–mocked, come home to roost. Scared eyes catch other scared eyes, shards of sunflower seeds hanging from open mouths and dropping lips, and share a terrifying realization:

The Giants are vampires. And zombies. And Gargoyles.

So yeah, it’s a small sample size, a limited study. But I do think Suarez is onto something. The Giants could use a little of El Vampiro right about now.

Thanks for reading. (Buster, are you reading?)

Twelve Popsicles Are Their Own Punishment.



It’s officially Summer Vacation around here, as of about a week ago.  Seems like every year about this time we go through a transitional period.  Moving from the predictable structure and rhythms of school, to, well, the opposite:  Chaos.  

It takes us — and by “us,” I mean my wife Hilary and I — approximately one week to gather data sufficient to inform the process of planning the remainder of our boys’ summers.  During this week of data-gathering, of limbo, all hell can break loose.  End of the Festival of Samhain-type break loose.  

From the comfort of our bedroom downstairs, we have heard the telltale sounds of Tivo upstairs before the sun has risen.  Someone is clicking willy-nilly from one station to another.  It’s early enough that much of the programming, I imagine, is sweaty people on elliptical trainers.  But also shows about one or another group of nightmare-inspiring vampire people, or maybe a random showing of “Jackass,” sure to incite future hijinks with speeding shopping carts and the like.  I’m much too tired to actually get out of bed and investigate, like a proper parent might do.  

Instead, I weigh the risks.  Run the numbers. Assume the worst:  Our 8 year-old has hacked the Playboy Channel and is watching “Journey to the Nether Regions.”  Or perhaps even at this ungodly hour, some mischievous HBO scheduler is burning “The Shining” into our 2nd grader’s impressionable brain.  If the latter, Everett will never ride a Big Wheel, never agree to stay at a big old hotel again, and probably stop bouncing a tennis ball off the stairs over and over again.  I can live with these possibilities.  In fact the tennis ball thing holds quite a bit of appeal.  So I allow myself to drift back to sleep, even as the Tivo “bloop,” bloop,” “bib-bloop” beckons off in the distance.  

I haven’t exchange a word with my wife lying next to me.  But I am 65% certain she has just done the same calculus in her own head. Maybe even running different worst case scenarios, than I could groggily call up.  Obviously her scenarios, too, weren’t overpowering enough to warrant a trip upstairs to investigate.  Bloop.  Bloop.  Bib-Bloop. 

Another example.  Max and Everett have been using the World Cup as an excuse to wear pajamas all day.  And by “all day,” I mean, every day since school has ended.  If I think about it, I don’t believe I’ve seen Everett wearing anything other than a pair of pajama shorts bearing a pattern of a tropical jungle and the number 29 (or 62, the pattern is a little confusing).  Nevermind why there are bright yellow numbers pasted on top of dark jungle scenes.  That’s probably some subversive shit, too, but I will have to try to wrap my head around that another day. 

And Everett is unapologetic about this.  Completely un-self-conscious.  Belligerent, even.  

We have pointed out that he has worn the same pajamas for, like, a week.  Expecting him to show surprise, an age-appropriate recognition of the prospect of scabies, or embarrassment.  Nope.  Instead, his voice is insistent, the pitch rises.  The vein in his neck pops to the surface and he juts his chin out and upwards.  “Dad, this is Summer!  I’m wearing exactly what I’m supposed to be wearing!”  

He’s so passionate and self-righteous about these crispy pajama bottoms.  He is very likely to send the whole inmate population into a frenzied coup if I were to provoke him any further.  The balance is that delicate.  Razor’s edge.  So I back down.  Practically handing him the Tivo clicker, with lowered eyes and bowed head, right after I navigate down the Tivo on-screen guide to highlight the Playboy Channel’s “Foursome: Walk of Shame.”  Ultimate show of submissiveness on my part.  Had I taken a different tact, reasserting my authority, this whole place would erupt into something of Attica-like proportions.  By this point, Everett has almost certainly seen that movie during one of his 6 am Tivo sessions. So this is no exaggeration.  

Then came the Popsicles.  

Over the course of the last week, we have entrusted the boys at home on their own for a few hours here and there.  Hilary is at work.  I’m working with some new consulting clients or running errands.  Max knows where the fire extinguishers are.  He is adept at texting, even if the texting more involves his mother or I trying to interpret what a red-faced, tribal-looking emoji totem pole icon is supposed to mean.  And Max probably does not really want to kill his brother.  At least not intentionally.  The same could not be said of Everett, but our 8 year-old is probably not quite up to the challenge of physically overpowering our 12 year-old.  At least I think I could make such a statement in a police report with a straight face.  

I returned home one afternoon this past week to find both of my sons wearing their could-stand-up-on-their-own pajama bottoms. Ensconced in one of the World Cup games played by teams whose official initials I could not decipher.  A quick scan of the room did not reveal any evidence of wrongdoing.  The dog’s eyes did not betray abuse.  If anything, in retrospect I saw enthusiastic conspiracy in those brown-red eyes.  I think the dog may be the happiest life form in our house when she and the boys are alone. But that is a blog post for another day.

I only began to get suspicious when the boys started whispering to each other in the midst of fake-looking wrestling.  The kind of wrestling you do to get close enough to your partner-in-crime’s ear, such that a whispered phrase sounds only like labored breathing and grunting to the casual, unsuspecting observer.  

But I am neither casual, nor unsuspecting. 

After an hour or so, both boys happened to wander outside of the living room, leaving me alone.  I used my brief seconds of solitude to investigate. Scanning the room in earnest for anything even remotely incriminating.  Without their guilty eyes watching mine, poised to destroy evidence via some distracting ruse or another.  I’ve fallen victim to several such ruses, and those are only the ones I know about.  

I turned my gaze behind my back on the couch, where no fewer than 5 pillows were piled.  Seemingly a perfectly legitimate stack of pillows to angle one’s head perfectly towards the TV.  The better to comfortably take in hour after hour of World Cup play.  In fact, I had been happily, comfortably leaning my own head against this pile for the past hour or so.  

I pulled one pillow off another.  My pace quickened as I began to feel I was on to something.  I felt keenly aware that the inmates would be returning to their cell within moments.  At the bottom of this innocuous-looking pile, I found the contraband.  

A box of Popsicles.  Completely empty.  Eviscerated.  Flattened.  Several plastic wrappers ripped open and empty.  Sitting under my head for the last hour.  Basically hidden in plain sight.  Brilliant. 

I felt certain that neither Hilary nor I had purchased this box of Popsicles.  Quite certain.  So I placed the box on the living room table in full view. Smack in the middle, on display.  It could not be missed.  

Everett returned to the living room first, immediately saw the box, and turned his body away from mine, fake-watching the World Cup game.  No doubt his mind spinning, panicked.  Waiting for his older brother to come in and save the two of them somehow.  His face flushed red, praying that I didn’t say anything, start shouting about trust, responsibility, and teeth falling out.  I’m sure his little brain ran his own little set of numbers: Maybe the box was there all along, and Dad still hadn’t seen it?  Maybe Dad saw it, but mistakenly thought Mom bought the Popsicles, or that the Popsicles were somehow Mom-approved.  Maybe Dad just didn’t assign a high-level of importance to this particular transgression?  

Then, Max shuffled back into the room, and the jig was up.  

Both boys fessed up to their roles in this particular fiasco.  Max copped to sneaking down the street to Safeway to make the illicit purchase. I nearly choked on my own spit when I learned that the box didn’t hold, say, 6 or 8 Popsicles.  It held 12!  And these sneaky little bastards had eaten all 12 in one sitting!  The two of my boys had sat happily, stickily on the couch devouring these Yellow Number 5 bombs.  As to the brilliant hiding spot, Everett confessed that he had hastily hidden the evidence under the pillows when he heard my car pull into the driveway.  Guilty, guilty, guilty. 

The punishment?  Absolutely nothing.  At least none handed down by Hilary or me.  We figured those 12 little sticks of colorful nastiness would take care of that for us.  While there is no dosage warning on the side of a box of Popsicles, there probably should be. Twelve Popsicles are their own punishment. 

Thanks for reading. 

I Plead the Fifth.


No, not the constitutional right one. The disease one.

Fifth Disease.

Little kids get this from time-to-time, where it usually goes by the name “Slapped Cheek.” Sounds cute, right? Almost like something every child should want to have.

As an adult, I might argue they should tweak it to “Mule-Kicked Cheek.” That would make me feel a little better about being knocked sideways for weeks by something that is best known for adding a touch of color to 2nd graders’ cherubic faces.

Allow me to elaborate —

“Really? ‘Slapped Cheek’?? Isn’t that, um like Chicken Pox or a paper cut or something? Have you tried a couple of those Gummy Bear vitamins? Maybe the grape-flavored ones? I bet that would take care of it, and maybe a nice glass of warm milk.” (This might be followed by a pat on the top of my head.)

See what I mean?

That’s how the cocktail conversation goes. (If I were actually up to going to any cocktail parties or even to a single cocktail hour. Or cocktail half-hour, even.)

I need something stronger, more impressive-sounding, more awe-inspiring, to explain my slight Quasimodo hunch, quivering upper lip and pained facial expression in these moments. I can’t have Mrs. Jones going home to Mr. Jones and reporting that Keir’s little cheek was apparently slapped, the poor thing, so Keir said he won’t be able to go on that bike ride with you next week. And he just can’t bring himself to meet you and the boys for that drink tonight, either.

Danger. Danger. Danger. Very real jeopardy of transgressing Man Rules due to this thing, and having to endure the consequent hazing (of the emasculating variety) for literally years to come. Maybe for the rest of my life.

Envisioning how this scenario might play out (poorly for me), I might try to turn things around:

Well, it is, apparently a disease, after all.” I lean in slightly towards the ear of my cocktail party partner, maybe even a bit of Dudley Moore jauntiness now perceptible in my slightly arched eyebrow, my lips pushed out a bit for emphasis. I re-take the upper hand with this. Now not merely cheek-slapped. Now wracked with pain by a disease!

And, what’s this? Look how nobly I manage to keep the beast at bay, while my body is being absolutely ravaged by this insidious force inside me. Now my Quasimodo tilt takes on the air of a swagger. A Civil War General. With a slight sway when he stands due to the remnants of a cannon ball still lodged in his hip. Yet still able to regale the room with war stories, one after the other, those around him doubled over in raucous laughter. And all this while the courageous, war-worn General manages to spill not a drop of his julep. Probably has one of those decorative field swords right there hanging at the ready, too.

Yeah, that’s me.

Until one of two things happens: First, my confidante effects a stage whisper, “a DISEASE?!?” The entire party then turns EF Hutton-style directly towards me. The grotesque figure standing center stage, all hunched over and feverish-looking. My attempts to backpedal, to sugar coat, to assure my listeners, “Oh, I’m l-o-n-g past the communicable stage,” — both a complete waste of time, and completely stripping myself of all that imagined battle-field glory.

Knocked right back down to “you know, the guy whom somebody slapped.” Now with the appropriate response, “Well, he probably deserved it.”

I am pretty sure this is how infamy of the variety that haunts generations is born. Of these moments.

On the other hand, if by some strange twist of fate, my cocktail companion does not recoil in horror at my admission, if he or she returns my sotto voce with their own sotto voce, there is another scenario that plays out:

“Oh my, a disease! You poor thing. But you seem to be so “chin up” about it. So much courage, you, even to be here.” I begin to hear the triumphant, Civil War-era battle hymns, faintly, off in the distance. Puff up my caved chest a bit. I may just be able to salvage some dignity here after all. Things are looking up!

Or not….

“If you don’t mind my asking, what disease is it that you suffer from, kind sir?”

“Well, it’s called Fifth Disease.”

And the vinyl record scratches loudly to a sudden halt. The room falls quiet. I catch a faint whiff of disgust in the air.

No one gets medals, wins awards, is the subject of glowing press releases or the recipient of honorary degrees, for finishing fifth. Fifth! How serious could this “disease” truly be, if it not only lacks a “real” name, but it’s only the fifth disease?? Four other, far worse maladies stand in line in front of it!!

Probably I couldn’t even get a military draft deferral by scrawling “Fifth Disease” onto my clipboarded GI paperwork. And I would have to write the words in, rather than check a corresponding box off for it. There are only four boxes for the first four diseases. Mine, the fifth, doesn’t even merit its own box.

So at this point, I quit. I toss my drink over my (good) shoulder, and march towards the exit careful not to make eye contact with any other guests. Defeated, but almost oblivious to the defeat since the mind-numbing aching in my shoulder has just taken hold again. The guests’ last view of me is vigorously shaking a plastic bottle of Advil into my mouth like Tic-Tacs, in a blind and wild search now for my heating pad.

I plead the Fifth.

Thanks for reading.

Reentry Is Rough.



“I’m coming back in…and it’s the saddest moment of my life.”

– NASA Astronaut Edward Higgins White, II, first American to “walk” in space  


Edward White’s emotional state bent and twisted like a molten steel rod 49 years ago today, as the astronaut traveled at 17,000 miles per hour, separated from his ship.  The first American to perform a spacewalk, White experienced something so sublime — the culmination of years of Draconian training and innumerable sacrifices along the way — that he just could not bring himself to return to the relative safety of the Gemini spacecraft.  He did not want to come back down to Earth.  Back to reality.  It took increasingly stern orders from Gemini 4 Commander James McDivitt to bring White back in to the relative safety of the 4-ton capsule. 

For the past several months, I’ve had the incredibly good fortune of teaching 24 young men about baseball and life.  I’ve logged perhaps 250 hours crouched behind batting cage L-screens, standing at the ready in my chalked 3rd base coach’s box, and doling out modernized  tidbits from Aesop’s Fables with a steering wheel, fungo bat handle, or black folded piece of cowhide in my hand.  My teams’ seasons always follow an intriguing, predictably unpredictable arc.  

If I am lucky, I will have figured out how to reach each one of the 2nd graders and 7th graders on a deep, individual level.  I will try to curate, ideally without the curation being noticed, some singular experience for each player that I hope he just might remember for the rest of his life.  Maybe even pass something like it along to his kids, his players, his students.  

The baseball stuff takes care of itself.  By now, I can teach a shortstop to truly “feel” where the batter’s swing is likely to send a struck ball at this moment.  Our catchers will come to understand the importance of their posture, the shape of their glove, and the strength of their own conviction when framing a pitch.  And hopefully our batters, who showed up at our first practice swinging from out of their cleats, have at least begun to grasp the notion of a shorter swing with a laser-focus on contact.  It’s the big-picture, life lessons stuff, though, that I reflect most upon as the season winds down.  

Except the season never “winds down.” It always comes to a crashing halt.  Cruelly. 

Of course, I know that this will happen.  I know that my own sublime spacewalk can’t last forever.  That I will have to return to Earth.  And I have known for years now that one day would be the last day that I would ever have the privilege of coaching my oldest son, Max. Twelve now, but just a 5 year-old kindergartner when I brought him into baseball (and he brought me back to baseball). 

I just didn’t think it would happen so quickly:  Last night.  

My head swam during our team’s final, bent-legged, post-game meeting in the left field grass.  Moving at what felt like 17,000 miles an hour, I replayed 8 years of Little League in my mind, then lifted my gaze to meet Max’s eyes.  He had an inkling of my emotional state.   My heavy-hearted gratitude for my own sublime trip.  For the honor of coaching his teammates.  The honor of telling him after every game how much I loved to just watch him play.  And he saw my reluctance to rise up from my now wet and grass-stained knee.  Standing up would represent the end of it, the end of standing on the same field with my first-born as his coach.  

I know I have to come back to the ship.  To come back to Earth.  I am coming back in.  And it’s the saddest moment of my life.

Thanks for reading.